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Chapter 3 : Three
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There were several loud cracks. Victoire whipped out her wand, suddenly faced with a dozen men.
"Protego!" she said reflexively, deflecting several curses.
She could hear Lance and Macario yelling curses upstairs, and knew that they must have received an unexpected visit, too. Hoping very much that they weren’t standing directly above her, Victoire pointed her wand at the ceiling and screamed the first spell that came to her mind.
The ceiling came pouring down over the men’s heads, nearly crushing one of them. In the confusion, Victoire sent several curses at them, hitting four or five, and narrowly avoided a falling piece of the plaster ceiling. The room filled with smoke from the explosion, eliminating all visibility. Victoire dropped to the ground, trying to keep a level head though the panic was beginning to set in. Auror training dictated that in any case of low visibility, it was important to keep low to the ground.
A flash of light shot through the smoke, making Victoire jump. The attackers were shooting around at random - another good reason to keep to the ground.
Was it just the smoke, or was the panic making her see white?
Victoire took a deep breath, trying to formulate a plan in her head. Clearly, something had happened to the reserve squad of Hit-Wizards that was supposed to be backing up the Aurors. Maybe they had been ambushed, too. Victoire knew that she, Lance, and Macario were heavily outnumbered. Without backup, they would never make it through this fight. There was only one way to survive - they had to get out, and fast.
Victoire’s heart was beating so fast that it hurt her ribs, and she was starting to feel lightheaded. It was extremely difficult, almost painful, to keep from Apparating out of the room to the safety of her home. She bit her lip, fighting the urge to flee, and reminded herself that she had to find Lance and Macario and get them back safely, too.
Just as she resolved to find the stairs, something bumped into Victoire’s side.
She opened her mouth to scream, but – luckily – Lance pressed his hand over her mouth.
“Are you all right?” he whispered.
“Fine,” said Victoire as quietly as she could. “Where are the Hit-Wizards? And where’s Macario?”
“No idea about the Hit-Wizards.” said Lance. “I lost Macario on the stairs.”
“Well, let’s find him and get out of here,” said Victoire, jumping as a flash of green light passed several feet above her head. It was a killing curse.
Victoire crawled over the floor as quickly as she could without making any noise. She spread her fingers out like antennae and skimmed over the surface of the floor ahead of her to make sure she didn’t bump into anyone who wanted to kill her.
She looked up and realized with a wave of fresh panic that the smoke was beginning to clear. They had minutes, maybe seconds, before visibility was restored. If they didn’t get out before that happened, the three of them were as good as dead.
Occasional flashes of light continued to streak through the air above Victoire’s and Lance’s heads. Every few seconds they heard a cough or scuffle, but it was impossible to tell who or where the noises were coming from.
“There,” said Lance.
Victoire squinted through the smoke – she could just make out an outline of a figure crouching close to the ground, clutching one arm in the other. It couldn’t be anyone but Macario.
“HA!” said a loud voice from across the room, and a green curse narrowly missed Victoire’s ear.
They had been seen.
“Lance- get out!” screamed Victoire, abandoning her desire to remain silent. She threw her body across the floor in a dive, knocking over Macario. Then Lance crashed into the two of them, and before Victoire knew what was happening, they were whirling out of the room together.
A second later, Victoire’s feet touched solid ground. But she blacked out before she could see where Lance had taken them.
Victoire put her elbows on Dunmore’s kitchen table and rested her face in her hands. She felt her skin with her fingertips, flinching as her fingernails skimmed over the small cuts on her cheeks.
“Well,” said Dunmore gruffly, clunking three mugs of hot mead onto the kitchen table. “We know one thing for sure – Lupin’s involved. It looks like he cleared out after your first interview, and left a trap for you – or at least tipped off the person who did.”
“No kidding, Dun,” voiced Macario from his seat. His arm was wrapped in bandages, courtesy of the special St. Mungo’s team that was always on-call to treat Auror injuries.
“And,” continued Dunmore, ignoring Macario, “it looks like we’re going to have to assume that the information you collected from the werewolf O’Laughlin and the bartender at the Dancing Dragon is reliable. So, Lance, I want you to go back to the pub and question him again. Ask him about any other suspicious activity he’s seen – and whether he knows anything else about this… gang. While you’re at it, you should ask around at some other pubs and bars, too. The Leaky Cauldron, for one.”
“Yes, sir,” said Lance, managing to sound polite even though he looked exhausted.
“Victoire, since you have a personal connection with Lupin, I’d like you to work on tracking him down,” said Dunmore. “You can work at home. And you might as well take Macario with you, while he’s healing.”
Victoire’s heart sank. She had been hoping that Dunmore would put her off the case because of her personal attachment. She didn’t want any further involvement with this – it was too painful to think that Teddy wanted to hurt her. That he had set up such a horrible trap for her to fall into.
That he had tried to kill her.
“Yes, sir,” she said, trying to echo Lance’s tone of polite obedience, and took a long draught of mead, hoping it would steady her.
“I want you to dig deep, team,” said Dunmore. “Overlook nothing. No piece of information is trivial.”
“I had toast for breakfast,” said Macario snidely. Even as an invalid, he was obnoxious.
Dunmore shot him a filthy look and continued: “From what we’ve heard – assuming it’s all true, of course – there’s some sort of a criminal organization out there that even the Ministry hasn’t rooted out, possibly because many of its members are Ministry workers, or because they’re paying off some important people. So don’t discriminate – anybody could be your enemy, even the Minister himself.”
Or your first and only love.
“Take the rest of the day off to recover,” said Dunmore, “then get to work. We’re going to pull this thing up by its roots, people!”
“Nice place,” said Macario, letting his large, leather bag fall to the floor.
“Thanks,” said Victoire, fluffing up the pillows on the guest bed. “I hope you’ll be comfortable.”
“I’m sure I will,” Macario assured her, smiling angelically. Victoire eyed the smile uncomfortably – he was being much more polite than usual. She hoped that this was only out of gratitude because Victoire had opened up her house to him – she couldn’t stand it when coworkers became interested. Especially in her line of work, Victoire knew that there was a hefty cost to office romances. Becoming attached to someone from work could end up burning Victoire in a million different ways.
Anyway, dating was the least of her concerns.
“Well, Lorelei should be home soon. It’s her night to cook, so while she does that I’ll pop over to the Ministry and weed out all the official files we’ve got on Teddy,” said Victoire firmly. “And then we’ll relax for the rest of the night.”
“Sounds good,” said Macario. “Then tomorrow–”
There was a loud crack, and Lorelei’s singsong voice echoed throughout the flat.
“Where’s our guest? I want to meet him!”
Victoire smiled and led Macario out into the kitchen, where he was greeted and given a thorough once-over by Lorelei, who had apparently been shopping. A collection of brightly colored shopping bags covered the entire kitchen table, spilling out clothing, kitchenware, and other odds and ends. Victoire's and Lorelei's home was full of clutter from Lorelei's shopping expeditions. The girl had a pretty serious problem - she bought anything she thought was cute, no matter how expensive or useless. Victoire didn't mind the mess, though – it made her feel at home.
“I did some shopping for you, too, Vic,” said Lorelei brightly. “Except… I’ll have to show you later.”
“What?” said Macario sharply. “Why? What is it?”
“Nothing important,” chirped Lorelei - but she winked at Victoire.
By the time Victoire returned to the flat, carrying a briefcase that contained every scrap of information on Teddy Lupin that the Ministry possessed, Lorelei was almost finished cooking. She was wearing an apron and flitting about the kitchen, waving a wooden spoon around in the air as she sang to herself. Macario was sitting back with his feet crossed on the kitchen table, picking through Lorelei’s shopping bags and smirking.
“I couldn't stop him,” sighed Lorelei. “He’s like a bloody raccoon. Found your knickers.”
“My what?” said Victoire, horrified.
“They were on sale at Tara’s Torrid Eveningwear, and I thought I’d surprise you,” said Lorelei mournfully. “I don’t even know if you’ll want to wear them, now that he’s had his paws all over them.”
Macario laughed evilly, and Victoire scowled.
“Maybe next time, before he goes searching through our personal things, he’ll remember that he’s staying here as a guest,” she said sharply.
“Oh, there won’t be a next time,” said Macario snidely. “I’ve already been through both of your bedrooms. And the closets. And the pantry.”
Victoire took a long, deep breath. She could see that this wasn't going to be easy.
Over the next six days, she and Macario worked their way through every known fact about Teddy Lupin, taking note of anything that could possibly be related to the case. There wasn't a lot to go on - it seemed like every bit of useful information on Teddy had vanished. Macario (much to his dismay) was added into the cooking and the laundry schedules, and was even brought along when the girls went out to eat at the Three Broomsticks, as was their tradition on Saturday nights. He made Victoire and Lorelei laugh all night with stories about the many times he had failed the Auror Examination. Finally, on Sunday morning, Victoire and Macario were summoned to Dunmore’s kitchen for an impromptu meeting of the Auror office.
The Aurors settled into Dunmore’s kitchen, exchanging quick, solemn greetings. Lance, who had called the meeting, flashed Victoire a quick, rusty smile as she entered, and conjured up a pair of chairs for Victoire and Macario.
“Right,” he said, when everyone was quiet. “Dunmore’s already filled you in on what I've been doing for the past week – gathering information in pubs. The information I've been able to pool is critical, although we don’t explicitly know how much of it is true. The general idea is that there’s an underground organization in London that organizes crimes and funds and protects illegal gambling. This organization has already been linked to Teddy Lupin, who was one of the founders of the company under whose name the organization operates. We suspect that the co-founders of the company, as well as many of its workers, are also involved in the organization. Furthermore, we have reason to believe that this organization reaches all over the grid, into thousands of businesses – and into the Ministry itself.”
“Into the Ministry itself,” repeated Dunmore with gusto.
“Now, I believe that the safest and most efficient way to infiltrate this organization is by going undercover,” said Lance. “A direct assault or investigation would only be met with violence. I've gotten into contact – under a false name and false purposes – with somebody who claims that they can give me a job within the organization. Meanwhile, I’ll need a few others to work their ways into different aspects of the organization. Dunmore, sir, have you–”
“Yes, I've made my selection,” said Dunmore briskly. “Macario, you’re all healed?”
“Sure,” said Macario eagerly.
“Then I’ll be using you,” decided Dunmore. “And Lizbeth, and Victoire. Stay behind after this meeting, and Lance and I will describe your individual missions to you.”
Victoire nodded respectfully, though she was – once again – a bit hesitant to take more responsibility in this investigation. She had always been one of the most ambitious, adventurous Aurors in the office, but now she found herself wishing she had chosen a quieter life.
She bit her lip, shaking her head. Teddy Lupin had already destroyed her love life, making it impossible for her to trust another man - she refused to let him destroy her career as well.
“This is Rimmon Astoreth,” said Lance, handing Victoire a photograph of a handsome blond man with a slightly cruel face. He seemed to be in his mid-thirties. “He’s one of the co-founders of Teddy’s company. He’s notorious for his weakness when it comes to, er, females… So I’d like you to approach him on a personal level. If you’re comfortable with that.”
Victoire tried not to cringe. Personal level...what exactly does that mean?
“That’s fine,” she lied.
“Right,” said Lance. “Well, I’ve got an entire file on him. Places he frequents, family members, that sort of thing. You should probably approach him at a bar or something – someplace entirely unrelated to his work. And, er… you’re sure you’re okay with this?”
“Yes,” said Victoire more firmly.
In reality, she wasn't sure. Victoire was extremely straight-laced when it came to male interactions. Since Teddy had disappeared from her life, she had found it increasingly difficult to trust men outside of her family or workplace. She didn't have any male friends, and she always stood up the blind dates that Dominique and Lorelei set up for her.
Still, the one thing that Victoire really took pride in was her job. She barely ever saw her family, she didn't have any hobbies, and her romantic life was obviously a failure. If she lost her grip on her job, she might lose her grip on life. Besides, it wasn't as if Lance was asking Victoire to sleep with this man.
“I’d like you to write an entire biography of the character you’ll be assuming,” said Dunmore. “Make it as detailed as possible, and bring it in to me tomorrow. I’ll look over it and give you a month’s supply of Polyjuice Potion, and then you’ll set off. Sound good?”
“Yes,” said Victoire again. “I’ll get to work on it right away.”
"Victoire," said Lance suddenly as she turned to go, "You don't have to do this. We’re just asking you because we think you’d do a damn good job."
Victoire smiled. "I think you're right."
“It’s nice to have the flat back to ourselves, isn't it?” said Lorelei happily that night.
Victoire yawned, looking up from the character biography she had been writing. So far, she was Diana Wade, a pampered American Pureblood who had never worked a day in her life, and spent most of her time travelling.
“Yeah, it is,” admitted Victoire.
“That Macario is good-looking, though,” sighed Lorelei. “Pity he’s such a git.”
Victoire laughed. She looked around at all the crumpled-up bits of parchment that littered the floor. It was strange, she thought, that right at this moment she was deciding who she would become tomorrow. Twelve hours from now, she would be a different person – she would be, in flesh, a strange composition of the traits hastily scrawled across this roll of parchment.
“You should bring home that other one, sometime,” suggested Lorelei. “What was his name, again? Lars?”
“Lance,” said Victoire. “And I told you – he’s older.”
“Oh, please,” teased Lorelei. “As if you've ever been put off by an age difference before.”
Victoire laughed again and threw a pillow at Lorelei. “You’re ridiculous.”
“You’re in denial,” said Lorelei. “I’m sure Lance would love to be with you. He probably dreams about it all the time.”
“Really?” said Victoire. “Seems unlikely, as he’s personally setting me up with a suspected criminal and, probably, murderer.”
Lorelei stuck out her tongue. “He just has a funny way of showing it.”
“Sure, sure,” muttered Victoire, screwing the cap back onto her bottle of ink. She had done enough work for today, and tomorrow was sure to be eventful. She should really get some sleep.
All of a sudden, she felt very tired.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and that it gave you more of a glimpse into Vic’s personal life and personality! The next chapter will be (as predicted by Victoire) pretty eventful!
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